So here's what I know: Takashi Miike's "MPD-Psycho" doesn't make a lick of sense, but, you know, in a good way. Those familiar with the notoriously prolific horror filmmaker's work (his most famous titles include "Audition" and "Ichi the Killer") will understand what I mean; he's made a career out of psycho-terror drenched in blood and guts, sex and violence, and to hell with logic. His works are to be experienced before they are understood.
"MPD-Psycho" has been labeled by many as Miike's "Twin Peaks," although that's not entirely accurate; it's a shortcut way of saying both series are mindbenders that depend more on mood and confusion than on plot. But the idea behind the analogy gets through. Weirdness reigns supreme.
This six-part TV miniseries, adapted by Eiji Otsuka from his own manga and produced for Japanese television in 2000, has a premise that's almost impossible to properly explain. Yosuke Kobayashi (Naoki Hosaka) is a detective whose wife was killed by a serial killer years ago, leaving him in such shock that he developed a second personality - and then a third. Kobayashi (or his alter ego, at least) killed the killer, but the killer's soul may have escaped to wherever it is killers' souls go while waiting to be able to possess others through their cell phones. When more killings start popping up, it's up to our "Multiple Personality Detective" to figure out how the killer's spirit is getting around, and what connection this spirit may have with a cult whose members have barcodes tattooed on their eyeballs. Oh, and what's up with the anime chick who pops up on various computers, leaving ominous messages? And what about the whole thing about Lucy Monotone, a former rock star from the States who became a terrorist back in the hippie days? Or the weirdo who collects snuff videos and trades them with the police chief? By the way, the whole thing takes place in an alternate universe of some sort where it occasionally snows green radioactive flakes.
And that's just barely scratching the surface. There's so much going on that the series often runs dangerously close of collapsing under its own weight. Miike and Otsuka have a tendency to be weird and confusing for weird and confusing's sake, which frustrates and threatens to break the patience of the audience. Yet the series always manages to draw back, keeping our interest even when we're ready to give up.
This is mostly due to Miike's top talent: his knack for intriguing, striking visuals. Even when working on a restricted budget and an uncrackable story, Miike always finds a way to attract us with a keen shot or a gripping bit of camera trickery. "MPD-Psycho" is riddled with haunting imagery, so much so that we forget that the whole thing was shot on the fly with digital video. Anyone that can make digital video look this good deserves all the acclaim he's received.
Of course, Otsuka demands attention as well - after all, he's the one who thought up all the spooky hooks to the piece. Tattooed eyeballs? That's brilliant, in a deliciously evil way. The various methods of murder, torture, and assorted mayhem that fills out the series are so inventive in their cruelty that I'm not sure if I should commend Otsuka or fear him. Either way, it's chilling stuff throughout.
Oh yes, "MPD-Psycho" is violent to a disturbing extreme, just as we've come to expect from Miike. The filmmaker deliberately pushes the limits of broadcast regulations; in fact, he even sneaks in a few comments on the whole idea of television censors. Throughout the series, Miike has digitally blocked out the series' most excessive shots, letting us see that the characters are looking at something nasty, but not letting us see what. Miike may be expressing his disappointment at being unable to broadcast his unaltered vision, but he's also inadvertently adding to the terror. The unseen is always more effective than the seen, and by barring us from seeing the most gruesome parts of this story, we're left to our own imaginations, which not even the infamous gore hound can top. (Plus, the sheer strangeness of seeing these unexpected digital chunks floating on our screens puts us off guard just enough to unnerve us even more.)
Then, just when we think we're about to break from the chaos of the plot and the intensity of the violence, Miike and Otsuka throws us comedy. Dark, bitter, oddball comedy, but comedy nonetheless, mainly in the form of the police chief and his geeky, figurine-obsessed assistant. It's perhaps here we get the full tone of David Lynch, where even the comic relief has bizarre, sinister undertones that exist only to punctuate the eccentricity of it all.
Ultimately, "MPD-Psycho" is a difficult yet fascinating story that wraps you up in its nightmarish dreamscapes. Its unending complications will put off many, but for fans of Miike's catalogue or other similarly intentionally dense, style-over-substance material, there's enough here to delight and horrify as it's busy confounding you.
Adness has finally collected all six episodes of "MPD-Psycho" into a single complete set. Three double-episode discs were released individually last year (volumes one and two of which have been reviewed at DVD Talk; check them out here and here, respectively, for alternate takes on the series), and those discs are identical to those presented in the "Complete Miniseries" box set. The only addition is a fourth disc containing bonus material not available on the previous releases.
The four discs come in three slimline cases, housed in a cardboard slipcover. Disc One features the episodes "Memories of Sin/Drifting Petals" and "How to Create a World;" Disc Two features "Life Is a Constant Double Helix" and "The Crushed Ant;" Disc Three features "Coronation of the Cursed King" and "Soaring Souls and Human Bondage."
Adness has included a disclaimer on their packaging effectively apologizing for the digital censoring featured in the series. It reads: "Since MPD Psycho was filmed for television, the violent footage has been digitally masked with static. Though we attempted to find the uncut footage, it no longer exists." This only adds to the potential for confusion over the masking, making it seem as if it was done without Miike's consent, which is not the case. Further confusion: Miike did provide uncut footage as a bonus feature on the Japanese DVD release, although the show itself remained masked. The note about how "it no longer exists," then, makes little sense. Was Adness trying to avoid complaints from customers assuming they edited the show themselves? If so, why not just add some text explaining Miike's intent?
Here's another stinker: Adness has labeled the video as being an anamorphic presentation, but it's not. We get the show's original 1.78:1 widescreen image matted and non-anamorphic. Worse, the picture contains plenty of aliasing and ghosting throughout. At least the dark colors look decent and the general darkness of the series' look avoids too much murkiness. Still. Bleh.
The Japanese soundtrack sounds fine in Dolby stereo (or "2.0 mono," as Adness calls it), especially when all those moody songs kick in. English subtitles are available, and in yet another odd twist, if I click to turn them off, they stay on, even though the system tells me they're off. (Tried it on multiple players, same problem every time.) Wacky.
On the three main discs, the only supplements are trailers for other Adness releases, plus television promos for individual "MPD-Psycho" episodes.
Disc Four opens with a set of cast and crew interviews (42 minutes total), all of which are overly padded with footage from the series. It's mostly dull stuff of the "what my character is like" variety. Not surprisingly, Miike is the most interesting (the padding here is behind-the-scenes footage, and it's fun to see Miike at work), but even with him, there's just not much.
"Special Effects/Make-up" is a ten minute collection of five featurettes consisting entirely of narration-free video taken on the set whenever the effects crew came out to play. The titles sum it all up: "Throat Slitting," "Girl in Tank," "Head Underwater," "Dead Bodies with Phones in Them," and "Baby." Yes, you read all those correctly.
"Lolita-C Animation" (2:40) collects all the animation sequences from the series. Nice to have it all in one spot, but without any context (all we get are title slates and then the clips with no sound), it feels a bit empty.
Five generic promos and five episodic promos (yes, the same promos as on the other discs) used for the series' on-air promotion are tossed in, as is a mediocre music video (sadly, not for the better music of the show, but instead a bland techno tune) and something called "MPD-Psycho Test Phase 'Dummy' Opening," which seems to be an abandoned effects-heavy alternate opening sequence.
Chances are, if you're interested in Miike and this miniseries, you already own the individual DVDs. This, then, is what you really want to know: the fourth disc does not make the upgrade worth it. The extras are too light and do little to properly supplement the main attraction. As for those who have yet to purchase this series, there's still no reason to now, thanks to a sloppy presentation from Adness. Rent It - either to enjoy the series without getting stuck owning a mediocre transfer, or (in case you already are stuck thanks to last year's releases) to check out that bonus disc, just to see what you're not really missing.